Manufacturing Spend — Amex Bluebird

Manufacturing spend refers to buying cash equivalents or other near-liquid items with your credit card and then either “cashing out” and paying off the credit card or using the money in ways you normally can’t with a credit card.  Essentially, the work you put in to the cycle allows you to rack up credit card spending (which you’re earning miles for) without really “spending” the money.  You’re basically buying money–then using the money to pay off your bills–including credit card bills.

The easiest way to do this on a semi-large scale is with American Express Bluebird.  This is a quick start guide for getting up and running and manufacturing an additional $5000 per month per person!

Bluebird Card

Bluebird Card

Step One: Sign up for a Bluebird Account. Go to and sign up for a free account.  This is not a credit account, they will not run a credit check, etc.  This is, essentially, an online bank account.

Step Two: Receive your card in the mail. This is a debit card linked to your Bluebird account just like your VISA/MC debit card linked to your regular checking account.  This should take 5-10 business days.

…hopefully you’re still with me.

Step Three: Buy Vanilla Reload packs with your credit card. The reload packs are sold at CVS, Walgreens, gas stations, etc.  You can see the full list at  CVS consistently lets you buy them with your credit card, whereas Walgreens almost never will.  This part is obviously essential.  They look like this:

Make sure they're exactly like this!

Make sure they’re exactly like this!

…and you can find them in CVS by the other reloadable cards.  If you don’t find them on your first trip, don’t be discouraged.  They’re often out of stock, as we’re not the only ones playing this game.  You’ll have the best luck the last 10-15 days during the month usually.

Most CVS stores aren't this well stocked...

Most CVS stores aren’t this well stocked…

You want the “Vanilla Reload” packs… not the “My Vanilla” cards or anything else.  Be sure they look exactly like the photo above.

You should load them for $500 each and most CVS stores will allow you to get two at a time.  The reason we do $500 is because it’s the maximum amount allowed and since each reload pack costs $3.95–regardless of how much you load it for–we max out our value by loading each card with the highest possible value.

Step Four: Load your Bluebird card online.  Scratch off the strip on the back of your reload pack and note the 10 digit PIN.  Then, go to and enter in the information from your Bluebird card and the PIN:

Use your Bluebird card number and your Vanilla Reload PIN

Use your Bluebird card number and your Vanilla Reload PIN

… then hit “Agree:”


Hit “Agree”

…then hit “Submit”


Hit Submit

…and Voila!



So now you’ve got $1000 freshly loaded in your Bluebird “online banking account.”

Note the recent load of $500 x 2.

Note the recent load of $500 x 2

Step Five: Bill Pay.  I know what you’re thinking… so what?  It seems like all you’ve done is load the money into a bank account you need to use your debit card to spend with.  Nope… you can use this card to “pay bills” including your credit cards, your utility bills, and even your rent or mortgage payment!  Basically anyone who will take a check, because they’ll send a check to any company (or anyone…) not already registered in their system.

Just click Pay Bills (see arrow above).

You’ll be brought to a screen that shows the accounts you’ve already set up, as well as a search bar where you can search for an add new merchants.

Bill Pay Screen

Bill Pay Screen

Credit card companies like Amex, Chase, Citi, etc are already pre-loaded into the system.  As are major utility companies in most cities.  Just be sure to enter your account number correctly.

If you need to add a new payee…say you have a small company as a landlord, you just search their name (knowing they won’t come up) and then it gives you the option to add them:

Seems " Properties" is not a registered payee with Bluebird... not to worry!

Seems “Smith Properties” is not a registered payee with Bluebird… not to worry!  Just click the “Add New Payee” button.

That will bring you to a screen where you can fill out all the information about the company (or person).  See here:

Just fill out all the info in the red box...

Just fill out all the info in the red box…

They’ll send a regular bill pay check on your behalf and voila!  You just paid your rent, gas bill, electric bill, wedding florist, etc with a credit card–even if they don’t take credit cards!

Any extra spending we can put on our credit cards is a huge win, so this is the easiest way to rack up lots of new spend without buying a bunch of crap you don’t want.  Since the cards cost $3.95 each, you’re essentially “buying” the points/miles at around ~0.8 cents per point–$3.95 per 500… but this is an incredible deal.  Assuming you need 50,000 miles for a one way to Europe in business class, you’ll end up paying $395 for the ticket–less than you’d spend on a cash ticket in economy!  The value propositon gets to be even better if you’re using them to meet spending thresholds for a sign up bonus.  If you need to spend $2500 to unlock a bonus of 50,000 miles, that’s only (5) $3.95 reload packs–under 20 bucks!

Pro Tips (Optional):

1) Split the total purchase in random amounts between at least 2 or 3 credit cards (from different banks) at the register.  $503.95 or $1007.90 makes it pretty obvious what you are buying, and officially “cash equivalents” do not earn points, so while I’ve ever heard of anyone not earning points, it’s best not to throw it in their face.  3 cards for random amounts like $315.39 may make the cashier blink funny, but it keeps you under the radar.

2) Remember that you’re limited to $5000 per month loaded via retail reload pack.  Don’t go overboard or you’ll end up waiting until the first of the next month…

3) Because of the monthly limit, you’re most likely to find them available at CVS stores toward the end of the month.

4) I do not recommend sending yourself a check.  That could be considered money laundering by an overzealous bank.  I would pay your legitimate bills and then either withdraw the rest at an ATM, transfer it to your bank account electronically, or in a pinch, send a check to someone else.  Maybe you need to “pay your roommate back for a new TV?”

5) I do not recommend putting lots of Vanilla Reloads on your Amex credit card, and then paying off the Amex credit card with Bluebird.  Because Amex owns Bluebird, this is letting them see too much of the cycle–should they be interested.  I use mostly Barclays, Citi and Bank of America cards for purchasing Vanilla Reloads because they seem a bit less sharp compared to Amex and Chase.

Travel the World For Free!


  1. The problem that I have found is that most CVS stores have their own rules. Some will let you purchase as many as you want at any time, however most of the ones i’ve been to recently are saying cash only. I was purchasing 2K worth at one time the other day, just before the 1st transaction another cashier told the guy ringing us up that they were “cash only”. That transaction went through, then the 2nd cashier (who should have just minded his own business) told my casher they were only allowed to sell 1k per day/per customer. It seems to be getting more difficult.

    • We Fly Free says:

      Hi Andy,

      I know from several managers that the “official” policy is $1000 per day of gift card transactions per person. Some employees don’t care, and the one where I took that picture above of the full rack (in Greene County, Virginia) had a clueless guy at the register that didn’t even check my ID–which they are always supposed to do when you pay with credit.

      You’re right, though, that it’s frustrating that so many employees don’t even know the rules, so they apply them inconsistently. Some of the Green Dot and other pre-paid products are cash only, so some employees assume that applies to all pre-paid products.

      Generally, if an employee is telling me they’re cash only, I ask to “try credit and see what happens.” That seems to work pretty well, and usually a call to the manager will let them know that credit is OK and the max per day is $1000. Most of the managers are hip to what’s going on, and one has flat out told me that he likes selling them because it brings people in the store and they do tend to buy other stuff.

      If this is done in moderation, I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that will be shut down. Amex and Walmart are advertising the features of Bluebird pretty heavily, so it would be hard to change them, and if CVS hasn’t stopped selling reloads with credit card yet, they’re not likely to start in my opinion. Luckily the $5000 limit per month builds in some degree of moderation.

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  1. […] night–8 cents per point.  And since you can earn Hilton points 6 per dol­lar at drug­stores (which I did to load my Blue­bird card), that’s a return of nearly […]

  2. […] deval­u­a­tion.  I had been using it as my go-to card for gro­cery pur­chases and some CVS pur­chases, but even 6X Hilton points doesn’t inter­est me […]

  3. […] that, by buy­ing vanilla reloads with our credit cards, we can effec­tively use our credit card to pay for expenses like rent/mortgage and other bills […]

  4. […] After that, we take advan­tage of a low price one way with Alaska miles from Sri Lanka to Hong Kong for 30k Alaska miles in busi­ness class on Cathay Pacific (not con­firmed yet, but let’s hope Cathay is one of the part­ners that become one way-eligible).  The Alaska miles come easy from the 25k sign up bonus of the Alaska credit card, and a lit­tle bit of man­u­fac­tured spend­ing. […]

  5. […] even earn a slight profit doing this.  Then the idea is you use these gift cards to load your Blue­bird card at a Wal­mart and you can eas­ily liq­ui­date […]

  6. […] CC. This post will focus specifically on the Vanilla Prepaid Reload [herein referred to as VPR]. Some people recommend buying odd denominations of VPRs over different credit […]

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